Pirate Sloth

I
The sun is a farm truck that riots the bean rows, curating and collecting on the debts of stillness incurred by dreaming.

II
I am learning radical slowness, like the sloth that carries algae and bugs in his fur to make him smell like a tree. He moves so slowly that predators do not notice him. I find the bark of life is good holding ground for my preternatural anchor.

III
In what story book are we imagined? And what dark salt bed, succombed to what inland sea, holds us here transfixed like Lot’s wife?

Create Dangerously

“To create today is to create dangerously. Any publication is an act, and that act exposes one to the passions of an age that forgives nothing. Hence the question is not to find out if this is or is not prejudicial to art. The question, for all those who cannot live without art and what it signifies, is merely to find out how, among the police forces of so many ideologies (how many churches, what solitude!), the strange liberty of creation is possible.”

–Albert Camus, 1957

Women Poets Cento

A poet friend tells me that the obituaries in the New York Times, historically and recently, are ninety percent men. So I checked my own bookshelves. Indeed, ninety percent of the books in my large and growing collection of poetry were written by men. So I set myself a goal to become familiar with the poetry of fifty women poets. Most of them should be new to me. The best way I know to do this is to write a cento. Cento is latin for patchwork. A cento is a poem made from one hundred lines of poetry taken from other poets.

This poem uses lines from forty three women poets, most of them new to me. Their names are at the bottom. I particularly enjoyed getting to know the work of Venus Khoury-Ghata and Kapka Kassabova.

Pouring on Fuel

The wreck of the Mary Ross is bitten into me
Due to foam, practically no visibility
Beethoven on the Beaufort scale
Cords, near the core, we shouted to lower our eyes

The sea itself was trying to freeze over
with an expanding map shaped like an angel
With crystallised honey rough in my throat
In meinen Erinnerungen ist immer Winter

When things were ready, they poured on fuel and touched off the fire
They waited for a high wind. It was very fine, that powdered bone
The buildings stood still like shocked witnesses
Their eyes and knees as thin as rain

They’re coming in from the road now
like mine horses born to live in the depths
darkness glued to their foreheads
being human is to have won from space this unchill interior

The dying are like tops, like gyroscopes
they spin so rapidly they seem to be still
in the body’s crypts there were signs
It’s crazy what two hands can conceal

My dad, insomniac shift-worker, blood-eyed
We tugged the poverty line as an argument with our neighbors
Behind these eyes that look like mine
This vast place has covered me from head to toe

“It’s nothing, he’ll get up,” I thought, “it’s just that stupid
wild cherry on his shirt.”
What if there were a hidden pleasure in calling one thing by another’s name?
These seagulls above the parking lot, hurricane and ether

Under baskets of sour cherries
very quietly the face fell into two pieces
Language lost its thread
scraping into the ground, without purpose

Life acute along the blade of a cliff edge
Your death, your ash, your soot share the rage at leaving
the taste of which you’ve put way back in the first kiss
There are as many ways of yearning as there are ways for rain

God almighty, I’d be well shot of you
I shall stand there, face to face when your dark mirror breaks
A worm betrayed by another worm
Now it writhes, both in dreams, and everywhere

I wanted to stay in the earth
There, I needed no skin—the dark body was all around me
Almost swallowed by the vastness of the mountains
but not yet

My mother let bleach run through her syntax
On the other side of punctuation her syllables became whiter
Are you interested in stealing instincts? Or in explaining
secrets of a world that rules with age and equidistance?

I tried to keep my mouth shut
But my tongue did not have any more room
For scars in the shape of my teeth
Conceit is the vacuum energy

In the land of dwarfs, scales are small
the contracted wits of paper-worms
The first dog in space did not come back
Came back as dust and rain

Now I want to sequester words, hold them in stress positions
‘again’ is a big word
The others have gone on with their children
The corn poppies came first, then the locusts
Does poetry keep itself cometically high like a goose above Ooy?
a fat failure rising to the zenith every day, panting heavily
where black mendicant nuns piss there on grey rocks
forever floating through the universe?

How fast is this camera? Can it record a trace?
This trace, if it exists, is alms for delusion
Your chamomile breath escapes
like a lamb from the sheep pen

The sound of green footsteps is the rain
I only give birth to seeds and to shells
Barely do I glimpse a swallow
Beyond the wall another wall

I consult my great itinerary of confusions
We have a soul at times. No one’s got it non-stop
It usually steps out whenever meat needs chopping
or forms have to be filled

Cursing the rooms of other people
There was a little less empty in the emptiness
Slowly and quickly–again
The border is ten steps away

These days men on curbs are curved
Like farm tools or bits of wire
a parchment spelling out twenty uses for difficult
white bone among the clouds

I hang about their anterooms
drink again this Juice of April suns
my name is written on the slate of this age, my song
There will be blackbirds, in a late March evening

On Half Moon Street we eat Tunisian orange cake
under a painting of a melon that spills seeds like love
I do not know what is innocent between friends
The tender meat of palms pulped like plums

The good men on the radio start coughing
I flap my wings more amply and a wind comes up
At first I only sensed the obvious
Moonwax trickling over my brow

Daily the sun slits its own ghost’s throat and rises in blood
I aspire to the horizon on a thread of light
I will wait for something to emerge,
like a man at sea carving his children from soap

Amber Flora Thomas
Fiona Sze-Lorrain
Maarja Kangro
Suad Al-Sabah
Andrée Chedid
Forough Farrokhzad
Margaret Avison
Tishani Doshi
Ann Lauterbach
Hinemoana Baker
Martine Audet
Torild Wardenær
Anneke Brassinga
Justyna Bargielska
Mary Ruefle
Tua Forsström
Athena Farrokhzad
Kamala Das
Mishka Mourani
Ursula Fanthorpe
Babette Deutsch
Kapka Kassabova
Mona Arshi
Ursula Krechel
Brigitte Oleschinski
Laura Kasischke
Nabaneeta Dev Sen
Venus Khoury-Ghata
C.J. Sage
Lidija Cvetkovic
Nadia Anjuman
Vivienne Bateman
Denise Desautels
Linda Maria Baros
Nuala Ní Chonchúir
Vivienne Margaret Bateman
Ekaterina Yossifova
Louise Gluck
Rae Armantrout
Wislawa Szymborska
Eva Ström
Luljeta Lleshanaku
Regina Derieva

Boxing Coach

Drop your hips when you punch
and when you block. In close
don’t forget the upper cut

Be quick as a heart attack
but don’t show all at once
Like a deadman’s hill on a back road
you don’t see until you are right up on it

I bet Jesus had an uppercut
Way he threw them money changers out the temple
You need something to back that up
Remember, drop your hips

Writing Letters

After five years of working with Amnesty International writing
letters to foreign leaders asking for the release of political prisoners,
I finally got a response. It is from a general in Uruguay.
Reading the letter, I can see the general in his wood paneled office suite
In the old section of Montevideo. The balcony opens to the Isla de Flores.
His crisp dress shirt is open at the collar. It is the season of llamadas,
and the riotous sound of a neighborhood Candombe band drifts up through the open balcony doors.
He sits at his desk in front of a pile of papers. At his elbow,
A whisky decanter of Laphroaig scotch rests on a silver tray.
He is feeling generous, the music has made him so.
He picks a letter at random from the pile and decides to answer it.
He is not a bad man. Why do so many strangers around the world think otherwise?

It is dark in his office, but the balcony is sunny. He walks to the railing and looks down.
A street vendor is selling melons. She is striking in her flower print dress
As she carefully arranges her wares for the morning. She reminds him
Of his daughter, Francesca, away at college in Boston. She wants to be a journalist!
What puts such ideas in a young woman’s head? Does she listen to the lies
In the streets about the mistreatment of Tupamaros dissidents?
And what is a lie anyway except a truth that is stillborn and must be buried
To make way for the future. The woman in the street looks up at him and looks away.
He walks back to his desk, puts down his drink and picks up my letter.
Dear Mr. Brandis, he writes. Thank you for your concern about senor Mujica.
We are proud of our people. We treat everyone fairly.

Facing In

The fish in the closet
are wandering

Diamonds have become used to
force feeding

No wonder the stadiums
are turning inside out

I wish to learn how to swallow
this morning blindness

Ghazal for an Oilfield Town

Where are the actors, the dreams, the scripts, the stages of this town?
The desires, the mortal fears, the unread pages of this town?

I cannot see where sorrow dissolves and love enters the room
It seems that love is a subtle set of cages in this town

As methane gas is the lightest fraction when crude oil is cracked
So astronauts watch a cup of night set blazing in this town

I’ll go home the way I came, in a worn out truck I barely own
and try to scrub off the tin can grief and crazy of this town